Democrats are holding their political convention in the urban landscape of Charlotte, North Carolina, which is studded with more than $800 million worth of public projects that wouldn’t exist without local Republicans.
The Time Warner Cable Arena, the Lynx light-rail line, the Nascar Hall of Fame and an expansion of the Charlotte Convention Center were approved by bipartisan majorities under Republican Mayor Pat McCrory, who held the office from 1995 to 2009.
“That’s kind of ironic, isn’t it?” McCrory said in a phone interview as he traveled east from Charlotte to Lumberton as part of his campaign for North Carolina governor. “I’m not hearing my name mentioned, but that’s OK.”
McCrory, 55, spent his time as mayor urging public investment in infrastructure, especially in the urban core locals call uptown Charlotte that is the center of convention activity. Companies with headquarters in the city, including Bank of America Corp. and Duke Energy Corp., supported the city’s efforts, which occurred as the population grew by 48% to more than 711,000 during McCrory’s tenure, according to the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce.
“Over the years, I think bipartisanship has helped build all these buildings,” said David Howard, a Democrat on the Charlotte City Council. “They couldn’t have gotten it done without the votes and the support of the Democrats.”
McCrory’s willingness to spend public money on major construction projects runs counter to the rhetoric from national Republicans, who say government needs to be smaller and spend less money.
“The national political scene has changed dramatically, which is why McCrory is campaigning far to the right of how he governed in Charlotte,” said Mary Newsom, associate director for urban and regional affairs at the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute. “He’s having to campaign in a way that gives him credibility with the extreme right wing of the Republican Party.”
Democrats and Republicans should work together to make progress on infrastructure, said McCrory, who lost his first bid for governor in 2008 as President Barack Obama won North Carolina by about 14,000 votes.
“We ignore one of our best presidents ever, and that’s Eisenhower,” he said, referring to Dwight Eisenhower’s creation of the interstate highway system. “Obama had a chance to be a Roosevelt-type figure with infrastructure, but he failed miserably.”
The uptown landscape that lured the Democratic convention didn’t exist in 2001. That year, in a non-binding referendum, voters rejected a set of public projects including an arena.
The city, led by McCrory, built the arena anyway. In that period, it finished construction of the light-rail line and began planning the Nascar Hall of Fame, which hasn’t met attendance projections.
The bipartisan, bank-backed ethic that governed Charlotte is changing as the city becomes more Democratic and national politics seep in, Newsom said.
The city council, which had been more evenly divided, now has nine Democrats and two Republicans. In 2009, after McCrory decided not to seek an eighth two-year term, Anthony Foxx became the city’s first Democratic mayor since 1987. In 2011 he landed the Democratic convention.
For his part, McCrory says he doesn’t mind that his role in making the Democratic National Convention possible isn’t being acknowledged from the podium.
The rail line, which runs almost 10 miles south from uptown to Interstate 485, was derisively known as “The McCrory Line” in the period before it opened in jeers that came mostly from fellow Republicans.
“Now that it’s working, it’s called the Blue Line, and that’s fine with me,” he said.
The convention, he adds, gives him a trump card when Democrats challenge his record in the gubernatorial campaign.
“If I did such a bad job,” McCrory said, “why did you bring the convention here?”